KNU Tells Burma Army to Cease Hostilities in Karen State

By Saw Yan Naing 14 September 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The largest ethnic Karen armed organization, the Karen National Union (KNU), has called on the Burma Army and a Tatmadaw-backed militia, the Border Guard Force (BGF), to cease ongoing military activity in Karen State, saying  it could affect the peace process.

The KNU statement, released on Tuesday, comes after more than 3,000 Karen villagers fled their homes last weekend due to clashes between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and joint forces of Burma Army and the BGF in the Mae Tha Waw and Myaing Gyi Ngu areas of Hlaingbwe Township.

The KNU raised concerns that ongoing conflict could increase mistrust of the Burma Army among the Karen public and disrupt the country’s peace process.

“There has been a lot of misery and disruption of stability and peace,” the statement read. “For that reason, we protest military activity by the Burma Army and the BGF forces in an area which is adjacent to the KNU-administered Hpa-an and Papun districts.”

The KNU said that it has given priority to the peace process and has been working with the government and the Burma Army, but as the military activity was initiated by the Burma Army and the BGF in nearby KNU-controlled territories—during the ongoing peace process—such acts could in turn affect trust building between the Burma Army and the KNU.

The KNU is the political wing of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and one of eight non-state ethnic armed organizations that signed last year’s National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the former government.

Saw Thaw Thee Bwe, joint secretary of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy: “The current conflict in KNU territories could grow. If there is a misunderstanding, fighting could intensify and spread to other areas. We want concerned parties to stop the fighting as it is causing suffering to civilians.”

“Since the BGF depends on the Burma Army, we especially want to urge the government army to stop military activity in order to maintain stability and peace. We need trust from the people,” said Saw Thaw Thee Bwe.

He also said that two days before releasing the statement, the KNU informed the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), chaired by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi as well as government military officials, of its concerns, but has so far received no response.

He said that the KNU do not want the conflict to escalate and that leaders are committed to the peace process, “but if military activity spreads into our territories, we can’t promise anything.”

There are KNLA bases near the conflict-torn Mae Tha Waw area including KNLA Brigade 7 troops and the new headquarters of the KNU Lay Wah, also known as Law Khee Lar, to the south. KNLA Brigade 5 troops are stationed to the north in Papun District where the Moei River meets the Salween River.

“Several armed groups, including our own troops, occupy the area. Problems could easily escalate if more groups become involved,” said Saw Thaw Thee Bwe.

Fighting in the area of Mae Tha Waw came after the DKBA splinter group announced in late August after the death of the group’s leader, Maj. Na Ma Kyar, that they would escalate frontline battles if the Burma Army and the BGF kept harassing their troops.

Two officers in the Na Ma Kyar splinter faction, Maj. Saw San Aung and Lt. Kyaw Thet, are on the same Burma Army wanted list as the deceased Maj. Na Ma Kyar, from whom the group takes its name.

Asked whether he thought the Burma Army had hidden motives behind their current offensives, Saw Tha Thee Bwe said that the situation could be contained as long as they only target DKBA leaders on Burma Army’s arrest warrant list. Saw Tha Thee Bwe said that things will become complicated if the Burma Army is interested in more than just targeting the DKBA leaders.

There are Burma Army, its ally BGF, the DKBA splinter group, and KNLA troops in Mae Tha Waw region which is adjacent to KNU controlled territories in Hpa-an and Papun District, Karen State.

Those civilians who have fled conflict in the Mae Tha Waw have sought refuge in Myaing Gyi Ngu village in Hlaingbwe Township. Several dozen have also fled to villages across the Thai border in Tha Song Yang District.